A Swedish-Philadelphian Story

The Swedes rowing in “Svea”.

26 June 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Here is another article in The Dry Season Bottom-of-the-Barrel Series in which Göran R Buckhorn finds a Swedish­-Philadelphian foot note from the 1880s.

One of the most famous rowing spots in the USA is Philadelphia with its Boathouse Row along the Schuylkill River. Of course, way back when, rowing in Philadelphia was not only the clubs at Boathouse Row, there were other rowing clubs in and around town. For a short period, between 1882 and 1885, there was even a rowing club founded by Swedes living and working in Philadelphia, proving that not all Swedes who immigrated to America ended up in Minnesota.

Atlantic Works Inc where many of the Swedes were working.

Many of the Swedes worked at Atlantic Works Inc., which was a machine factory in Philadelphia. Stephan Rozycki, who was born in Paris to Polish parents and grew up in Sweden, was an engineer at Atlantic Works. Rozycki and seven other Swedes founded The Swedish Rowing Club of Philadelphia in October 1882. The Swedes shared the boathouse with an older club, the Riverside Club. Back home in Sweden, Rozycki’s sister made and sent him a flag which was used as the club flag. The Swedes’ club uniform was yellow with blue striped shirt, blue trousers and a blue cap with a yellow star.

In June 1884, the Swedes bought their first boat, a coxed six-oared gig. They painted the oars blue with a yellow star and named the boat Svea. Moder Svea [‘Mother Svea’] is a ‘personification of Sweden […] and normally depicted as a powerful female warrior,’ as mentioned on Wikipedia. Today, Svea is still a national symbol of Sweden. Later the same year, the club acquired a coxed out-rigged four, Göta, and a single scull, which was named Thule. The 15 members of the club were frequently on outings in these boats, especially during the summer days of 1884 and 1885.

The Swedes were happy to take long-distance rows on the Schuylkill and further south on the Delaware River. The Swedes were known to row also during extremely hot summer days, which made spectators on the river banks cry: “There come the crazy Swedes!” According to a 1934 article by Fredrik Arsenius, The Swedish Rowing Club was invited to join the Schuylkill Navy on several occasions, but the club declined as its members were afraid that they would lose their ‘Swedishness’.

The Swedes last outing was on a very hot summer day, 17 July 1885. By then Stephan Rozycki had left the club to join the U.S. Navy. He was later stationed at the U.S. Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Swedish Rowing Club in Philadelphia is a little foot note in the rowing history along the Schuylkill River.

A version of this article has previously been published on HTBS on 29 April 2010.

4 comments

  1. When I clicked on the article and saw the title again, I immediately wondered if Göran had a Swedish version of “The Philadelphia Story“ in mind, maybe with links to the film or to “High Society”, even to a Swedish version of the story. If Ingrid Bergman starred in it, that would be extremely nice, but Grace Kelly would be almost as good. With the melody of “True Love” in my ears, I wondered how all the men in the six-oared boat could fit in such a story – maybe during the midsummer night celebration in the little town of Leksand on lake Siljan. There would be no need for a swimming pool, and those men would have learned to row church boats on the lake. And those Swedish girls are all attractive, even if they had a German mother: e.g., the crown princess, or Ingrid, herself.
    I scrolled down with too great expectations, no, just false expectations, and enjoyed a delightful story.

    • Thank you, dear ‘myoarin’. I agree that there should be a Swedish version of “The Philadelphia Story“/“High Society”. Or why not a rowing version of Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film “Smiles of a Summer Night” – and with one of my favourite Swedish actresses, Ingrid Bergman.

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